“To pass the ball to Andrea Pirlo is like to hide it in a safe”- Zbigniew Boniek
Andrea Pirlo is just that, a safe.
Given the nickname the architect by his teammates, Andrea Pirlo is and has continued to be a safe haven for Italy’s national team. Excellent in patiently building up attack, Pirlo remains the sole individual to thread the needle for Italy’s attack.
Andrea Pirlo was brought up as an offensive midfielder, but in 2001 Brescia tactician Carlo Mazzone transformed the young Pirlo into a deep-lying playmaker or regista. A year later at AC Milan, Carlo Ancelotti placed midfield destroyer, Gennaro Gattuso, alongside him. The transformation was complete. The rest was history.
For the Azzzurri, Pirlo has been heavily relied on since cementing his place in the squad at Euro 2004.
This has turned out to be a double-edged sword for Italy, who are now slowly starting to feel the effects and see a future without the regista.
On his day, Andrea Pirlo remains one of the best players of his generation. When he is absent from the squad, Italy seems disconnected and struggles to form a coherent attack. And the odd chance that he’s having an off day, well Pirlo turns into an extreme liability.
Some Key Events:
1) World Cup 2006:
A starter in all seven of Italy’s games, Pirlo helped Italy lift the World Cup for the fourth time in their history. He is awarded the Bronze Ball of the Tournament while also earning three man of the match performances including one in the final.
2) Euro 2008:
Due to suspension, Pirlo missed out on a crucial quarterfinal match against Spain. Italy sorely missed him and would go to lose in penalties.
3) World Cup 2010:
Pirlo featured in only one game due to injury. Italy finished last of their group. The Azzurri clearly couldn’t form an attack without Pirlo and the Azzurri played without any spark or passion. When Pirlo was introduced in the second half of the final group match, Italy looked back in form and almost snuck out of the group stage. His absence helps to partly illustrate why Italy performed so poorly.
4) Euro 2012:
A starter in all six of Italy’s games, Pirlo helped Italy reach the Final of the Euro. He earned three man of the match performances and is awarded a spot in the team of the tournament.
5) Confederations Cup 2013
Pirlo pulled out a good performance against Mexico. However, his performance against Japan wasn’t memorable as the midfielder gave up the ball numerous times and appeared fatigued. In the final group match against Brazil, Pirlo did not feature and Italy was left clueless in forming an attack throughout the entire first half.
Now that he is getting older, Pirlo remains a liability if he plays a bad match as he could be at fault for bad giveaways or fire misplace passes due to the opposing team’s pressure. He also could succumb to fatigue by having to track back on defence after his mistakes are made.
Italy’s New Problem: Life Without Pirlo
Riccardo Montolivo replaced Pirlo in Italy’s final group match against Brazil. With 47 caps coming into the match, Montolivo was supposed to take charge of Italy’s attack due to Pirlo’s absence.
But the Montolivo experiment failed, like it has in the past. Montolivo was invisible for 20 something odd minutes before substituting off. Whether he is not commanding enough or not given enough respect to replicate Pirlo’s play remains to be seen. But Montolivo does thrive well when he supports Pirlo in the midfield. Alberto Aquliani also faced the daunting task of stepping into Pirlo’s shoes in the quarterfinal match against Spain in 2008, but proved to be unsuccessful.
Where To Go From Here?
Marco Verratti could be Italy’s next best option, however there are some drawbacks to the 20-year-old. He is highly inexperienced at the senior international level having only made three appearances with the Azzurri. He accumulates yellow cards frequently. Coupled with great pressure, it could be said that he himself is thinking a bit too much about some Pirlo comparisons, which has produced less than stellar performances (against the Netherlands recently in the U21 Euro).
Things To Consider
Pirlo’s quality will overshadow his liabilities and will most likely feature in next year’s World Cup but Prandelli has a few things to sort out.
Does Prandelli offer more playing time to Verratti within the next 12 months to act as Pirlo’s direct replacement and acknowledge that Montolivo isn’t the right replacement?
At the World Cup does Prandelli substitute Pirlo in every match to give him rest and match experience to Verratti?
Lastly,and this may seem far-fetched, but does Prandellli push Pirlo up in his original position in the midfield as an offensive midfielder and absolve him of his defensive responsibilities? (Pirlo was featured higher up the pitch pre-World Cup 2010 tournament).
One thing is for certain. Andrea Pirlo has declared to retire from international play after next year’s World Cup so Italy must think of a long-term option to replace the architect.